Chelsea Beller, 29, was shot by masked assailants while working at the Barcelona Wine Bar on Howell Mill Road early Sunday morning. She was later pronounced dead at Grady Memorial Hospital. (Family photo)
Photo: Family photo
Photo: Family photo

Spirit, spunk defined manager gunned down at popular Westside eatery

Sometimes it was pink. Other days, it was blue, green or somewhere in between. But no matter what color Chelsea Beller picked for her hair, it just suited her, according to friends.

“For some reason, it seemed so natural on her,” a longtime friend said Monday.

With her free-spirit and kind heart, Beller had a lively personality and ambitious spirit. Despite her petite frame, the 29-year-old wasn’t easily overlooked, earning the nickname “Rainbow Brite” after the 1980s cartoon character. But as she closed the restaurant where she worked as a manager early Sunday, she was shot and killed during a robbery, according to Atlanta police. Shocked friends united in their grief Monday, heartbroken though still inspired by Beller.

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“She lived by her heart, and loved everyone whole-heartedly,” Lauda Rodriguez Lacayo said. “To live out loud is something a lot of people are afraid of, and she was not.”

Beller was first hired by Barcelona Wine Bar in Inman Park, which opened in 2011. A former manager, Edgar Chamu, said he had his doubts that Beller would last long in the restaurant business and even considered firing her because Beller was slow learning her duties as a server. Later, the two joked about it.

“She proved everyone wrong,” Chamu said.

Beller was driven and a hard-worker, and moved from serving tapas and drinks to helping managing Barcelona. When Barcelona opened a second location off Howell Mill Road, Beller moved to the new location, a re-purposed building called Westside Ironworks in a trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood. The Barcelona menu and intimate restaurant feel attracted customers, and the high volume kept Beller busy.

As she and other employees closed the restaurant early Sunday, three masked men came in and tied up employees with electrical tape, according to Atlanta police. Beller was forced upstairs to open a safe and then shot in the shoulder, Officer Lisa Bender said. She was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, police said.

No suspects were in custody late Monday, but police announced the reward for information in the case was increased from up to $2,000 to $7,000. They also posted video of the assailants and are asking members of the public to help identify the suspects.

“No crime against our citizens, anywhere in the city, is acceptable,” Carlos Campos, Atlanta police spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “But the robbery and murder of an innocent restaurant manager doing her job is a terrible crime that has shocked even the most jaded among us here at APD.”

Friend worried for Beller’s safety

Fiona Sites-Bowen was supposed to go to Barcelona Westside on Saturday night, but her plans changed. Sites-Bowen previously went to the Inman Park location, where she met Beller, and the two became friends. When Sites-Bowen lived off Howell Mill Road, the Westside Barcelona was a go-to spot.

Though she said she was always cautious while living intown, Sites-Bowen felt safe in the area.

“Of all of the areas where I thought something like this could happen, I wouldn’t have thought of the Howell Mill district right there,” she said.

But the restaurant’s location makes it difficult to see from the road, Sites-Bowen said. She worried about the safety of Beller and other employees who worked the closing shift, and Sites-Bowen didn’t believe there was a security guard monitoring businesses in the area.

“It’s really concerning to me that there wasn’t any protocol,” she said. “It just seems like the perfect recipe for something like this to happen.”

A spokeswoman for Barcelona declined to comment Monday about security concerns, but said both Atlanta Barcelona locations are closed indefinitely. Restaurant General Manager Eric Ferraro released an emailed statement.

“All of our employees are really like an extended family — this loss is a horrible tragedy and it has shaken all of us,” Ferraro said. “…we are working closely with the Atlanta police to help them with the investigation. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Chelsea’s family and our team.”

Second restaurant shooting in three months

In August, a neighboring restaurant just steps away from the Westside Barcelona was also the scene of a shooting.

On Aug. 28, Thaddeus Todd, 25, tried to rob a customer outside JCT Kitchen, Atlanta police previously said. Witnesses said Todd continued shooting after the man ran into the crowded restaurant. The victim survived the attack, police said.

Cellphone videos from witnesses in the restaurant and surveillance video helped them to identify Todd, who is also suspected in at least five other armed robberies in midtown and northwest Atlanta. Todd was arrested in September and remained late Monday in the Fulton County jail, where he was being held without bond.

As news of Beller’s death spread among the Atlanta restaurant community, some businesses reached out to The Giving Kitchen, which provides emergency assistance to restaurant workers or families. Some friends gathered Sunday to share memories, and other tributes were being planned.

Through his sadness, Chamu said he still found a way to smile thinking about this spunky friend.

“She always gave herself first for everybody,” he said. “No matter what, she was always there for anybody at any certain time of the day.”

Police said three men walked into the Barcelona Wine Bar on Howell Mill Road right as the restaurant was closing early Sunday morning.

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